The Volkswagen emissions testing scandal is well analyzed by Clive Crook, an economist writing for Bloomberg View. The deepest level of the scandal, he says, lies in the government policies about “global warming” that have led to the emissions controls in the first place. I favour emissions controls for clean air, let me assure you, but the AGW catastrophism adds the element of an eternal treadmill of ever higher emissions standards, which creates the incentives to fake test results.
It’s this scandal that teaches the most important lessons. Beginning in the mid-1990s, mindful of their commitments to cut carbon emissions, Europe’s governments embarked on a prolonged drive to convert their car fleets from gasoline to diesel. With generous use of tax preferences, they succeeded. In the European Union as a whole, diesel vehicles now account for more than half of the market. In France, the first country to cross that threshold, diesel now accounts for roughly 80 percent of motor-fuel consumption.
What was the reasoning? Diesel contains more carbon than gasoline, but diesel engines burn less fuel: Net, switching to diesel ought to give you lower emissions of greenhouse gases. However, there’s a penalty in higher emissions of other pollutants, including particulates and nitrogen oxides, or NOx. Curbing those emissions requires expensive modifications to cars’ exhaust systems. To facilitate the switch, Europe made its emission standards for these other pollutants less stringent for diesel engines than for gasoline engines. The priority, after all, was to cut greenhouse gases.
Except that the switch to diesel probably didn’t cut greenhouse gases. Making diesel cheaper by taxing it at a preferential rate encouraged people to drive more. And emissions of GHGs higher up the fuel-supply chain are worse for diesel than for gasoline. (Increasing demand for diesel drew in more supplies from Russia; producing and moving those supplies caused more emissions.) Treating diesel to lower its sulfur content adds yet another carbon penalty.
At best, the clean-diesel strategy lowered carbon emissions much less than hoped, and at ridiculous cost; at worst, as one study concludes, the policy added to global warming.
I read the other day that much a of climate skepticism does not come from climate change denial, but from skepticism about government’s inability to manage a box of Chiclets, let alone a complex issue involving the interplay of science and the use of fossil fuels versus renewables.
An anecdote may be worth passing on. I heard the other day from someone who might know for a fact that the federal environment minister had proposed to pass a regulation on alcohol content in windshield wiper liquid. This was at the behest of eco-fanatics (a.k.a. responsible civil servants) within the federal Department of the Environment.
The effect of this regulation, if it had passed, would have been to lower the alcohol level such that windshield wiper fluid would freeze at -15C, a temperature achieved in winter in most of Canada for months at a time. If you have ever sprayed your windshield and found that the wipers are not clearing your windshield, you will realize what a disaster that would have caused. Now imagine millions of cars moving around Canada in January when even places like Toronto are at -15C. Yes, people would have died by the dozens in road accidents, as wiper fluid froze onto windshields.
The proposal would have come to Cabinet, but someone somewhere (presumably a central agency) caught it.
These are the same kinds of people propagating windmills about the landscape to save us from fossil fuels. These are the same kinds of people espousing higher emissions standards for cars. Junk science, junk policy. And Michael Mann is still a free man. In a properly organized mediaeval state he would have burned at the stake close beside Savonarola, for preaching false doctrines.
Where is the Inquisition when you need it? Oh, I forgot, in modern days it would be imprisoning climate change skeptics.